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Mangoes, Lychees and Mangosteen
The taste and texture of these lush fruits lives up to their exotic names
More of this Feature
Choosing Fruit and Storage/Preparation Tips

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Mangoes, lychees and mangosteen - the words roll off the tip of your tongue. The taste of these tropical fruits live up to their exotic names. The lychee tree produces oval-shaped fruit, approximately one inch wide, and covered with a reddish-brown skin. You need to peel off the bumpy skin, which is inedible, to get to the luscious, sweet fruit inside.

There are hundreds of varieties of mangoes, in all shapes and sizes. A mango can be small as a plum or up to ten inches in diameter; long and slender, round, oval, or kidney shaped. The color of its skin can range from green to a yellowish-orange. With the exception of one variety (all too aptly nicknamed the "turpentine mango"), mangos are renowned for the fragrant, juicy flesh lying beneath the outer skin.

Although their names are similar, the appearance of a mangosteen and a mango are very different. Ripe mangosteen is roughly the size of a mandarin orange, with a reddish-purple rind. An interesting fact about this fruit is that there is always a type of scar at one end. This is a remnant of the flower, and the number of remnant flower parts contained in the scar will tell you precisely how many segments of fruit are inside. The fruit itself is sweet, with a texture that has been likened to a ripe plum. The flavor is sweet with a hint of acidity.

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A Bit of History

Both mangoes and lychees have a long and noble history in Chinese cuisine. In particular, lychees have been valued by successions of Chinese emperors for their sweetness. The lychee is native to the southern Chinese provinces of Fukien and Kwangtung. According to legend, when courtiers first stumbled upon the lychee, they thought the fruit was so delicious that they rushed back in triumph to display their discovery to Emperor Han.

While lychee - Litchi Chinensis to use its scientific name - is native to China, mangoes originated in East India and Burma over 4,000 years ago. It is hard to overemphasize the role of the mango in Indian culture. They were a sacred fruit in India, where legend has it that Buddha was given a mango grove as a gift, in order that he might seek repose among the towering evergreens (mango trees can reach up to sixty feet in height). Later, the ability to cultivate mangoes became something of a status symbol. Today, mangoes are considered to be a symbol of love, and a basket of mangos is an excellent gift.

Mangosteen is the fruit of an evergreen tree, Garcinia mangostana, that is native to Malaysia and Indonesia. Said to be Queen Victoria's favorite fruit, it inspired a lengthy commendation from David Fairchild in his 1930 work Exploring for Plants, which ends as follows:

...there is nothing to mar the perfection of this fruit, unless it be that the juice from the rind forms an indelible stain on a white napkin. Even the seeds are partly or wholly lacking, and when present are very thin and small. (1930, as quoted in Popene, 1932, in The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999).

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